Even then, Morocco did not seem intimidated. Regragui’s players did not flinch in the face of the brilliance, the experience, the contradictions of this curious French team, both obviously imperfect and gently imperious.
Morocco didn’t stutter when a single misjudgment, a bit overzealous central defender Jawad El Yamiq, allowed France to snatch a first goal – completed by Théo Hernandez – after just five minutes. It was the first goal Morocco conceded to an opponent since the start of the World Cup.
Nor were they fazed by the loss of three of their first-choice defenders to injury early in the second half, the growing cost of their run so deep in the tournament: Nayef Aguerd in warm-ups before the match ; Romain Saiss after the opening rallies of the first half; Noussair Mazraoui at the break.
Despite all this, for large swathes of the match, Morocco troubled and tormented defending champions France, the overwhelming favorite rocking ever closer to their heels. Ibrahima Konaté and Raphael Varane rushed to put out the fires as they broke out, relying more on luck than judgment to keep Moroccan attacks at bay.
Even Kolo Muani’s goal, hit from close range with his first touch of the ball, did not attract attention. The light was therefore fading, but Morocco did not acquiesce. Deep in injury time, all hope almost extinguished, he carved out not one, not two, but three golden chances to score, to shake French nerves, to bring his fans – old and new, here and there – one last cause for celebration.
They didn’t really need it. At the final whistle, Regragui’s players collapse on their backs, all the air sucked out of them. For a moment, we wondered if the indefatigable Azzedine Ounahi and Sofyan Amrabat, in particular, did not need to spend the night there, and return home in the morning.
After a while, they got up and formed, for a few minutes, a tight little group with their teammates, listening to Regragui tell them that the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, was “proud of them, that the people Moroccan was proud of them, that the whole world was proud of this team.
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